A few days ago, a woman approached me with several questions about her fledgling business–a beginner horseback riding lesson program in Upstate New York–and how she could make it grow. As it stands now, she has a fairly loyal customer base, but their payments do not provide her with an income that is steady enough to support herself and her family. Her full time work schedule means that she can only offer lessons on the weekends and often results in her working 6 to 7 days per week. She is working with a limited number of lesson horses on a small farm with a very small indoor arena. To me, this seemed like a pretty difficult position to be in, but one that I thought many other farm owners could relate to. In this article I will touch on some of the methods by which instructors–or pretty much any equine business owner–can help their business to grow by attracting new customers.
Competition between riding programs is rather fierce these days, as many families elect to forego the weekly riding lessons of the not-so-distant past due to tighter budgets and time constraints. Sometimes a student may have to travel great distances to reach a horse farm. The cost of travel, combined with the cost of the lessons themselves, can very quickly turn into the same amount one might spend on a new car or their monthly rent. When weighed against other expenses, riding lessons may take the back seat. Instructors often need to be not only well-known, but capable of teaching more than just one specific discipline. They must have horses for every rider’s experience level available to them at all times. One mishap or otherwise poor experience can cost an instructor both that student and their reputation as an instructor. That being said, with proper business practices, it is still possible to gain customers and make a living in this field.
Tip #1: Utilize Word of Mouth Advertising
Are your clients happy with your program? Chances are, if they keep coming back and handing you money, that answer is yes. Remind them to tell others about you and your business. If you can, give them an incentive, such as a referral program that provides them with a free lesson if they bring in a new customer. Offer to give the lesson at the customer’s own location if you can. Word of mouth advertising is extremely powerful–more powerful, even, than social media and print advertising combined. You can’t be sure that someone will spread your name around after a positive experience, but you can be darn sure people will hear about a bad one. Make sure everything that’s said about you is positive!
Tip #2: Take to Social Media
If you aren’t on Facebook, you need to be. Although this social media giant is typically seen as a method for connecting with friends and family and sharing every insignificant detail of your life, it is also a dominant marketing tool for businesses. Facebook advertisements can easily reach thousands of local customers for a very reasonable price. I spent $5 on my last ad campaign and reached 717 individuals. I received 4 new wall posts and over 30 new likes in just the two days the campaign was running. That may not seem like a lot, but every like increases your business’ online “range.” Once a person likes your page, there is an increased chance of your business showing up to their friends as well. Considering the average number of “friends” per user is over 300, that means my business now has the potential to reach about 9,000 more users. That $5 investment doesn’t look so wimpy now, does it?
Facebook also allows businesses to track their page “insights,” including the age, gender and location of the users visiting the page, as well as what they are viewing most and when. Knowing which posts are the most effective at drawing attention is a valuable bit of information for any company, large or small. Users can also join Facebook groups that pertain to their business. There are hundreds of local groups for horse lovers, horses for sale, horse-related discussion forums, and more. Join and participate in as many of them as you can. It’s all about networking.
Tip #3: Keep in Touch via Email
Sending out bi-weekly or monthly emails to your clients can be an efficient way to keep ahead of your competition. A good email subject line, relevant and interesting content, and easy access to your contact info are a few surefire ways to get results from your email blasts. The most straightforward way to collect emails from potential clients is to ask for them. Collect business cards from people and you’ll notice that many of them include an email address. Using an email client such as MailChimp will allow you to create a signup form that can be added to your Facebook page or website, as well as allow you to view your email lists and the results of each email campaign. Don’t use your email blasts just to advertise–make each email worth opening. Offer tips and tricks, savings coupons, event invitations, contests and useful articles to keep your customers opening and reading your emails time and time again.
Tip #4: Appear Often
I cannot stress this enough. It is a proven fact that the more often a business appears to customers, whether it be through personal interactions, business cards, fliers around town, or on the web, the more apt that customer is to remember your business name. Obtain professional business cards and a well-built website. Invest in a sign for the end of your farm’s driveway if possible. Attend seminars and clinics to heighten your skills. If you travel a lot, turn your vehicle into a rolling billboard for your program while you’re at it. Attend shows and events with your students to reap some of the benefits of their blue ribbons when people ask who their trainer is!
Do you have any suggestions for how to bring in customers? Comment below and tell us!